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The Linux Professional

The RHCE Experience

by Jeff Dean

In the the second article of The Linux Professional series, Jeff Dean covers the Red Hat Certified Engineer course and exam. In the first page, he explains the prerequisites and the coursework that you can take before the exam. On page two, he details the parts of the exam itself. On the third and final page, he offers his impressions and some tips on helping get through it.

In last month's column, we examined some of the Linux certificate options available for system administration, along with potential motivations for pursuing one. This month we'll focus on the Red Hat Certified Engineer program from Red Hat Software, Inc.

The RHCE consists of a four-day, instructor-led training class and a one-day, hands-on exam, offered together for the hefty sum of $2,498 (US). If you're not interested in the training, the exam is available separately for $749. The RHCE is a well-known option, and the strong Red Hat brand may make it attractive to you or your employer.

RHCE prerequisites

Red Hat makes it clear that they're not looking for rookies to take their test. As you look over Red Hat's RHCE prerequisites, you may get the sinking feeling that there's just too much there for you to qualify. While it may look intimidating, remember that you're not expected to be an expert in all of the listed topics. Linux or other Unix experience will probably be sufficient, and some reading in advance on the areas you're not directly familiar with will help.

The RHCE training course

I attended the RH300 course+exam bundle in May 1999 at Red Hat's Durham, NC, headquarters. At that time, the program was focused on Red Hat Linux 6.0. (Everyone was buzzing about the upcoming Red Hat IPO, but employees kept what they knew to themselves.) The course currently features Red Hat Linux 6.1, and it's likely to be updated to 6.2 soon after as the new release is ready. There were about 13 students in the classroom representing four or five nations. We were all provided with lots of room, comfortable chairs, and a reasonable mid-range PC. The atmosphere was cordial but not familiar, and we were advised to remain within a few designated areas of the office. Everyone was initially disappointed that no Internet access was available in the classroom, but this limitation is a wise choice by Red Hat, keeping everyone focused on the material. The training fee includes a catered lunch.

The course is reasonably paced and consists of traditional presentations delivered via a browser. The material is divided into eight presentation units, each with its own hands-on lab exercises. Here's a brief overview (see Red Hat's course outline for detailed information):

The overall pace of the presentation was reasonable, and adequate time and support was available to complete the labs. Sharing between students was encouraged where appropriate. The instructor was knowledgeable and eager to help. The use of time was better than the average of technical courses I've attended. After-hours study was not allowed on site, and it was clear that students needed to hit the road at the end of the allotted instruction time.

Sharing between students was encouraged where appropriate.

To prepare students for portions of the RHCE exam, the course included four quizzes with multiple-choice answers. The quizzes had nothing to do with certification results, and were used mainly to keep us thinking. Ample time was allowed to discuss the answers to the quizzes and to handle any questions they raised.

In the next section, I'll walk you through the parts of the exam and how long each takes.

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The RHCE Experience
by Jeff Dean |

The RHCE exam

The RH300 course is informative and is a reasonable preparation for the exam. However, there's a lot of information to cover, and while the labs do a good job of illustrating most points, the presentation
The exam is specifically looking for debugging and deployment skills.
simply doesn't have enough time for full detail. The exam is specifically looking for debugging and deployment skills that are hard to present without giving away too much. Your experience will play a large part in your success.

Unlike computer-administered exams you may have taken for other certification programs, Red Hat follows a more practical path. Their goal is to verify not only that you are familiar with concepts and procedures, but that you are adept at handling a real Red Hat Linux system. The full-day exam allows no notes or other reference material, and is presented in three separate parts:

Each of the three segments is worth 100 points and requires a minimum score of 50. This minimum is particularly significant on the debugging portion of the exam, where a few failures can cause you to fail the entire exam. You must have at least 240 points (80%) at the end of all three segments to receive the RHCE certificate. Unfortunately, results are tabulated after you leave, meaning that you'll have some time to wait for your status. My results took over two weeks to arrive via e-mail, and my printed certificate took even longer.

If you think you'd like to try your luck with the RHCE exam without the training, read through the exam prep guide first. If you're comfortable with everything you see there and can function without documentation, you're a likely candidate.

Was it worth it? In the last section, I'll offer my impressions and some tips on taking the exam.

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The RHCE Experience
by Jeff Dean |


Overall, I see the RHCE program as thorough, detailed, and concise, but not overly difficult. To their credit, Red Hat doesn't
As a hiring manager I would look on the RHCE certificate as a significant positive indicator of performance ability.
use tricks to mislead students, even on the debugging portion of the exam where subtle problems could have been inserted. The exam ensures that RHCEs are competent, informed, and thoughtful system administrators. As a hiring manager (which I've been) I would look on the RHCE certificate as a significant positive indicator of performance ability.

On the other hand, I was disappointed by a few aspects of the program. Although printing with lpr was touched upon briefly in unit 6, no printer was available in the classroom and no labs touched on printing. This could be considered an omission since printing is an important part of Linux deployment in corporate environments. Likewise, no modems or phone lines were available to experiment with PPP (admittedly, this would be a hassle for Red Hat to administer). Another missing feature was the availability of a true Windows system to verify the Samba configurations used in the labs. We were able to check operation using Samba's native tools and the Linux log files, but for Samba there's nothing like having a Windows box around to be sure.

RHCE Exam -- Shortcomings

• No printer was available to test printer deployment skills.

• No true Windows system was available to verify Samba configurations.

• Red Hat offers no formal ongoing relationship with their RHCEs, as Microsoft tries do with MCSEs.

My biggest concern with the RHCE program has nothing to do with the presentation or the exam, but with the RHCE's subsequent relationship with Red Hat. As promised, I was given proof of my certification, including a unique number I may give to prospective employers wishing to confirm my status. However, beyond that certificate I haven't heard anything from Red Hat. After going through the stress and cost of attending the RHCE course and exam, I hoped that I would be able to form a unique relationship with Red Hat, Inc., including RHCE-only information and perhaps a subscription to Red Hat software releases. By direct comparison, many MCSEs enjoy free one-year subscriptions to TechNet, a value larger than the costs of their exams. By ignoring their RHCEs, Red Hat is missing an opportunity to organize some of their best advocates in the field.

Recommendations for success

Here are a few thoughts on how to succeed with the RHCE program, for both training/exam and exam-only options:

You or your employer will be spending a lot of money for your RHCE certification, so anything you can do to maximize your chances for success will probably be worth doing.

Next month

In next month's article, we'll take a closer look at the LPI's General Linux I Exam T1a. I took T1a in January, but still haven't heard my results. For those of you considering the LPI exams, note that the LPI has some freebies for the first 300 examinees.

Jeff Dean is an engineering and IT professional who is currently writing a Linux certification handbook for O'Reilly and Associates.

Copyright © 2009 O'Reilly Media, Inc.